December 5, 2018

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press photo
The Square Grouper-Islamorada restaurant plans to expand into the Islamorada Marina with a February opening. The namesake Square Grouper on Cudjoe Key will remain in operation.

KEVIN WADLOW/Free Press photo The Square Grouper-Islamorada restaurant plans to expand into the Islamorada Marina with a February opening. The namesake Square Grouper on Cudjoe Key will remain in operation.

ISLAMORADA — By early February, a catch of the day in Islamorada should be the Square Grouper.

A new branch of the Square Grouper Bar and Grill, a landmark eatery on Cudjoe Key for 16 years, is taking shape for a planned February opening within the Islamorada Marina complex, mile marker 80.5, bayside.

“We can’t wait,” Square Grouper owner Lynn Bell said this week. “I’ve always enjoyed Islamorada and we’re super excited about being part of it.”

Combined indoor and outdoor seating for about 150 is planned for the Upper Matecumbe Key restaurant.

“They’ve got a big boat basin right along the bayside, so it’s a beautiful location,” Bell said.

Operators of the marina, fans of the original Square Grouper at mile marker 22.5 in the Lower Keys, urged Bell to expand into the Upper Keys marina.

Joe Bell, part of a family tradition in the restaurant business, will serve as general manager of the new location.

“Joe grew up in the restaurant here and went on to Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration,” said Lynn, his mother. “He knows what he’s doing, and I’ll be right here to assist him if needed.”

Lynn’s parents operated a resort in Vermont before moving to Marathon 30 years ago, residing on Palm Island near the Faro Blanco Resort.

When a tenant could not complete a restaurant opening in the Cudjoe Key building that Lynn owned, she decided to finish it herself.

“That was the era of the square grouper, so that was the name,” she chuckled. “People in that part of the world knew what a square grouper was.”

For the uninitiated, her father penned a fictional description of a square grouper, bestowing it with the Latin name “epenephelus plasticus/burlapus” — a marijuana-bale-size “fish” species wrapped in plastic and burlap. The mock description remains on the menu 16 years later.

“People are more well-versed in these things now than they used to be,” Lynn said, “but they still get a kick out of it.”

In 2015, the Lower Keys restaurant added the upstairs My New Joint, a cocktail lounge offering a raw bar, tapas sharing plates, entrees and desserts.

The menu for The Square Grouper-Islamorada “is going to combine the best of My New Joint and the Square Grouper,” Lynn said.

Among the locals’ favorites expected to be on the menu will be items like ahi tuna avocado eggrolls, flash-fried conch, homemade smoked fish dip and a variety of steaks.

“And the Magical Brownies” of ice cream, chocolate sauce and Heath Bar crunchies, Bell said.

For operating hours and full menu for the the Square Grouper and My New Joint on Cudjoe Key, visit squaregrouperbarandgrill.com.

kwadlow@keysnews.com